Addiction is a Disease: How to Talk to Your Family About It

Addictions are complex. When our loved ones are suffering, we can be tempted to become frustrated with them for not simply snapping out of it. We find ourselves asking, “Why can’t he just stop smoking?” or “Why doesn’t she just avoid gambling?”

In fact, addiction can be seen as a disease that affects the body and behaviors in complicated ways. While treatment is possible and there are opportunities for recovery, it’s beneficial to explain the challenges of addiction to your family.

Do Your Own Research

Before telling your family members about addiction, it’s important to do your own research first. Find reliable online sources, books or speak with a mental health professional to get well-rounded information that you can trust.

Begin With Personal Stories

Does someone in your family live with addiction? What about a close family friend? Starting with personal stories can help make addiction relatable for your family—especially for younger members. Furthermore, it can put a human face to a problem, engendering understanding as opposed to immediate judgement or stigma. This topic is particularly important to cover if addiction runs in the family as genetics play a role in substance abuse issues.

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Talk Through Details

If your family members are old enough to understand basic biology, try explaining some of the brain chemistry involved in addiction. This will help to foster understanding and will prevent assumptions about the person’s personality or morality. You can also teach your family members about treatment options that are available and the recovery process that someone in addiction goes through.

Continue the Conversation

Be sure to keep this conversation going. If something comes up in the news or in a movie, use this as an opportunity to talk to your family about what they’ve learned or how they feel. Make room for them to ask questions, and if you’re unsure of the answer, seek the guidance of a mental health or addictions professional.

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